Tag Archives: parchment

Any rags?

A rag collector in Paris late 1800s

In spite of Frederick’s decree, Europe’s papermakers simply got on with making paper. They added a twist to the recipe: rags. Rags means old cloth like towels, tablecloths, bedsheets, curtains, handkerchiefs, dresses, shirts, pants, socks, underwear, twine, even rope. In Europe, rag fiber meant linen or hemp. Buying old rags sprang up as a side business to support the papermaking business. Rag content in paper makes it pretty nice to draw and paint on. Here in the USA rag means cotton fiber. Rag paper is PH neutral—it contains very little or no acid so it doesn’t yellow over time. The European process was still pretty much the same one the Chinese used: you throw fibrous material into a vat of treated water and break down the fibers until you get a slurry.

The watermark found on many pages of Gutenberg’s bibles.

Most of Gutenberg’s bibles are printed on paper. He got his paper from a mill in northern Italy. The pages have a watermark—the logo of the mill is ever-so-slightly indented into the paper. You only see it when you hold the paper up to the light. How fitting is it that the watermark on the pages of the Gutenberg Bible is in the shape of an ox head? An ox head was the original shape of the first letter of our alphabet: aleph. https://johnmanders.wordpress.com/2021/01/11/canaanite-turquoise-miners-fool-around-during-lunch-break/

https://www.bl.uk/treasures/gutenberg/paper.html
https://www.papiermuseum.ch/manufaktur/#Papierproduktion
https://www.artistshelpingchildren.org/kidscraftsactivitiesblog/2012/02/how-to-make-paper-from-rags/
https://www.ehow.com/how_6132991_make-rag-paper.html
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9Pvk-mzEUs
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rag-and-bone_man
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ragpicker
Here’s Betty and rag man Bimbo (this cartoon is pre-Hayes-Code—parents, shield the kids’ eyes when Betty reveals her undergarments):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcGCGhjHFuU
Here’s a good article about paper:
https://vintagepaper.co/blogs/news/rag-paper-what-is-it
https://www.themorgan.org/collections/works/gutenberg/invention-of-printing
Here’s how a watermark is made: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQwTblKyU8g

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

Paper or parchment?

Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II—’the Wonder of the World’ as his pals liked to call him

The invention of papermaking slowly—like a thousand years slowly—made its way to the Middle East and then Europe. In Spain and Italy, mills began cranking out paper in the 1100s. This paper was for writing on (of course, right? Printing wasn’t a thing yet).

Paper was considered not as good as parchment. There’s a sacred aspect to parchment. Parchment had been the preferred writing surface for religious and legal documents since the days when it replaced papyrus. Still, paper was less expensive than parchment, so customers started making the switch to paper.

The land-owning barons and earls who sold livestock to make parchment saw the new paper industry cutting in on their profits, so they sandbagged the demand for paper. In 1221 the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II decreed that paper documents were invalid—which meant contracts written on paper weren’t legally binding. Lawyers, judges and government officials had to use the more expensive parchment just to keep their documents valid. It’s a sad fact that big business will always enlist cronies in government to squash their competition. Always.

http://www.holyromanempireassociation.com/holy-roman-emperor-frederick-ii.html
https://beyondforeignness.org/8966
https://www.historyanswers.co.uk/kings-queens/emperor-frankenstein-the-truth-behind-frederick-ii-of-sicilys-sadistic-science-experiments/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

Deckle and mold

The Chinese papermakers made wooden frames and stretched a mesh/screen across them—they were 2-piece flat strainers called a deckle and mold. Think of two screen windows—one has a screen in it, the other is an empty frame. They dipped the deckle and mold into the slurry and pulled them up horizontally. The water drained through the mesh. They removed the mold to leave a square of slurry on top of the mesh, which got transferred onto a piece of felt. Multiple pieces of felt and slurry were stacked together as a post and pressed to dry flat. When the whole post was finally dry, the slurry was paper that they could pull off the felt.



The Chinese papermakers improved on the recipe by adding bleach to brighten the paper’s appearance and finishing the paper’s surface with sizing (starch at first, then in the 1400s they switched to animal glue) to make it smoother.

https://www.learnchinesehistory.com/history-chinese-paper/
https://www.dkfindout.com/us/history/ancient-china/chinese-paper-making/
Hey, look! Georgia Tech has a Museum of Papermaking:
https://paper.gatech.edu/invention-paper-0
Watch a deckle and mold being made: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_A9D1IPRqw
I’ve long wondered where bleach came from. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKJCWJ-ibfI
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sizing

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

PAPER!

Great galloping Agamemnon, we forgot paper! Why didn’t you guys say something?

Those monks hand-wrote their bibles on parchment or vellum, remember? Parchment isn’t cheap. It was Gutenberg’s mission to make bibles affordable, so most of them he printed on paper (just a few he printed on vellum) because paper was way less expensive.

Bamboo

Paper was another one of those Chinese inventions that came to the West along the Silk Road. They started making it around ad 100 (a guy named Ts’ai Lun is credited with paper’s invention). China’s first paper was made from bamboo, which is a reed—like papyrus in Egypt. Just like the Egyptians, they soaked the bamboo after splitting it into strips, then criss-crossed the softened strips into a sheet, pressed and dried it.



This kind of paper is not so good for printing. A printing surface needs to be perfectly smooth, and papyrus-style has ridges from the reed’s strips. To make high-quality paper—the good stuff—takes more work. Chinese papermakers figured out that you can soak the bamboo and other fibrous plants like flax in a vat of water and alkalei to break down their fibers more quickly. Alkalei is an acid you get from wood ash. They also beat the soaking bamboo (maybe like churning butter?) until the whole mess disintegrated into a slurry of plant fibers and water.

https://www.thespruce.com/meaning-of-lucky-bamboo-1902901

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Don’t forget: I wrote another Western Civ User’s Guide! Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.

Gall and vitriol!

In the world of art supplies, a liquid medium like ink is pigment + binder + solvent. Pigment is color. In iron gall ink, the black pigment is created by the chemical reaction when vitriol (iron sulphate) is added to water that had gall-nuts steeping in it.

The binder holds the ingredients together. You might remember the Egyptians got the sap, or gum, from acacia trees which they dried and ground into powder—Gum Arabic. Gum Arabic is the binder for iron gall ink. The powder is mixed with vinegar before adding it to the inky water.

The acid from gall-nuts (and vinegar, too) eats into the vellum very slightly, so the pigment stays put.

Water is the solvent. You can thin iron gall ink with water. After it dries, though, it’s waterproof. If you goof you have to scrape it off with a knife.

Here are links to iron gall ink recipes:

https://recipes.hypotheses.org/8935
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7k4-wj8mZ8
Isn’t she wonderful? This lady found a medieval recipe for iron gall ink and decided to cook it up herself:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xo9rbRRCBv8
https://www.medievalists.net/2015/09/how-to-make-ink-in-the-middle-ages/

Here’s where you can get the ingredients online. CHECK WITH YOUR PARENTS before you start playing with caustic chemicals that can burn a hole through the kitchen counter, you weirdos!
https://www.etsy.com/listing/786632766/oak-gall-35-oz-brownish-white-gallnut?gpla=1&gao=1&&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=shopping_us_b-craft_supplies_and_tools-paints_inks_and_dyes-dyes&utm_custom1=_k_Cj0KCQiAj9iBBhCJARIsAE9qRtDhCL1puzg69VQp90T-th542MUw5Rc1l2Z5-FqHllw8I1s_u-575mgaAifyEALw_wcB_k_&utm_content=go_11502762686_119128326464_476190472988_aud-966866687014:pla-297542836984_c__786632766_12768591&utm_custom2=11502762686&gclid=Cj0KCQiAj9iBBhCJARIsAE9qRtDhCL1puzg69VQp90T-th542MUw5Rc1l2Z5-FqHllw8I1s_u-575mgaAifyEALw_wcB
https://www.gumarabicusa.com/buy-now#buy-gum-arabic
https://www.homesciencetools.com/product/iron-ii-ferrous-sulfate-30-g/?gclid=Cj0KCQiAj9iBBhCJARIsAE9qRtA45C0COBF4UGN4E3CaUx5wSoVZbTfHQatWuNOSqgsmAtYzz-jg4xwaAp40EALw_wcB

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_gall_ink

There’s a charm in the old words of these recipes. They were once used to describe chemicals and today they describe attitude or a way of speaking or acting:
vitriol https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vitriol
gall https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gall

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Iron gall ink

Hatched gall wasp leaving its nut

The ink the Egyptians used was great for papyrus. Not as good for parchment. Writing on parchment calls for a different kind of ink. This new ink needs acid that will bite into the surface while staying nice and black. Not a whole lot of acid—just enough so the ink interacts with the surface of the parchment.

Where do you find acid? Somehow, somebody observed that when wasps lay their eggs on the tree bark, the eggs irritate the tree which reacts by growing a round gall-nut around the eggs to isolate them. If I were a tree I’d do the same thing myself. After the eggs hatch the baby wasps leave behind gall—a bitter, caustic chemical. Ink-makers collected those gall-nuts to make a slightly acidic ink. To get the gall out of the gall-nuts, they steeped them in water for a week.

https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/trees/oak/oak-apple-gall-info.htm
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39Fdxx_J3K8
https://earthstar.blog/2018/04/14/andricus-kollari-maybe/180414-andricus-kollari-1/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

It was bound to happen

As you probably guessed, somebody figured out that if you can sew pages to one another to form a long scroll, why not sew them all together along one side? Yup, they did it and it worked! The pages are sewn along the left side. Not only that, they put a hard cover around the whole thing to protect the pages. This is called binding, and the style of book is called ‘codex.’



A codex book can be held in one hand and you can use a bookmark to remember a specific page.

Wow! Lots of photos show the process of binding a codex book—
https://nyamcenterforhistory.org/2013/04/04/modeling-history-making-a-stiff-board-parchment-binding-with-a-slotted-spine/
https://katebarberblog.wordpress.com/tag/single-cord-sewing/
You can even bind your own book— https://www.amazon.com/Bookbinding-VENCINK-Supplies-Binding-Large-Eye/dp/B075XK8RZ1

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

The whole megillah in one sentence

A quiz from when I taught Sunday school. I always thought Vashti got a raw deal in this story.

Did somebody say ‘megillah?’ It means ‘the whole ball of wax’ or ‘the whole nine yards.’ Where did that word come from? Purim is the holiday that celebrates when Esther saved the Persian Jews from being massacred. It’s a long story that’s read in its entirety every Purim—and the Hebrew word for scroll is megillah.

And, because I’m the Sweetheart of Blogdom, I’ll give the whole Book of Esther my patented Western-Lit-in-Only-One-Sentence ® treatment. The set-up: Israel had been under the thumb of the Assyrian Empire, then the Babylonian Empire who marched most of the Jews to parts East. Next, the Persians ran the show and the Jews who lived in the Persian empire kept their heads down to avoid trouble. We’re in Susa, the capital city. Ready? Hang onto your tri-corner hats ‘cause here we go:

Five months into a 6-month drinking party King Ahasuerus hollers for Queen Vashti to make an appearance but Vashti says no thanks bub so the wise men tell King Ahasuerus she has to go or else none of the wives will obey their drunk husbands so Queen Vashti gets the pink slip and Ahasuerus holds a beauty contest to choose a new wife meanwhile the Jew Mordecai tells his beautiful cousin Esther the Miss Persia pageant could be her golden ticket so Esther enters and wins now she’s the queen and lives in the palace Mordecai warns Esther be careful some bad guys want to kill the king so Esther tells the cops and they catch the bad guys later the bigshot Haman is walking around Susa everybody bows to him except Mordecai who only bows to G-d so Haman gets mad and tells King Ahasuerus he wants to kill all the Jews because they won’t bow to him Ahasuerus says okay here’s my ring with the royal seal do whatever you want Mordecai gets wind of this plan and begs Esther to get the king to stop it Esther goes to the king even though he didn’t ask to see her which was a serious crime in those days but she figures if I die I die Ahasuerus doesn’t kill her so she invites Ahasuerus and Haman to dinner Haman builds a really tall gallows to hang Mordecai later that night the king reads the newspaper story about how Mordecai stopped the bad guys who tried to kill him he orders Haman to honor Mordecai with a big parade so Haman doesn’t get to hang him which really grinds Haman’s gears that evening at Esther’s dinner King Ahasuerus asks her what would you like darling anything at all even unto half my kingdom Esther says Haman wants to kill all the Jews I’m a Jew so…Ahasuerus has Haman hanged on the same gallows Haman had built for Mordecai the king gives his ring with the royal seal to Mordecai he sends out executive orders allowing the Jews to defend themselves they destroy their enemies Mordecai takes over the bigshot job Haman had.

https://www.thespruceeats.com/jewish-hamantaschen-cookies-recipe-1136141
https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/purim
https://www.israel21c.org/making-some-noise-on-purim/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Maybe that’s why medias res got moved to the front

A really big scroll

Scrolls have a drawback: you can’t bookmark a page. If you want to read something that’s in the middle of a book, you will have to unroll the whole megillah until you find it.

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/reading-the-megillah/
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/megillah
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a57YrrOVhOk

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

Scrolls are still around

Parchment scrolls are still used today for important documents. In a Jewish synagogue, the Torah is written on a scroll. As the rabbi reads from it, he uses a yad to point to the words so his hand doesn’t touch the holy text.

There’s a tiny hand at the end, pointing a finger

You may have noticed me fretting about animal welfare for the last few posts. My pal (and Western Civ User’s Guide Irregular) Ilene told me that Torah scribes—sofers—who write on parchment are trained to be kosher butchers (click here and scroll down to the comments—also here, scroll down). They’re taught to have compassion for G-d’s creatures whose bodies furnish the parchment His Word is written on.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_scrolls
https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/torah-scroll/
https://www.worldofjudaica.com/judaica/torah-pointers
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/kosher
Warning: this link may be unsettling; it talks about the kosher slaughtering of animals— https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/kosher-slaughtering-an-introduction/

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.